Want to boost your mood? Try a daily gratitude practice! Studies show that practicing gratitude has significant health benefits, both for mental health and physical health. Thanksgiving time is a perfect time of year to introduce this practice into your life.
To practice, devote a few minutes each day to reflecting upon someone or something for which you’re grateful. Perhaps it’s a family member or a friendly neighbor. A beloved pet. The color of the autumn leaves. Your hands as they help you care for the rest of your body, carefully lifting a warm cup of tea to your lips or washing your hair in a hot shower.
You may want to try a different reflection each day, or alternately use the same one. There’s no right or wrong. Simply notice the feelings of gratitude as you imagine that for which you’re grateful. Focus on how you feel — mind, body and spirit. You may even want to journal about your experience.
If you can, choose the same practice time each day, associating it with something you do regularly, such as brushing your teeth or getting ready for sleep at night. Consider prioritizing your gratitude practice, so you can boost your mood throughout the holiday season and in the years to come.
Being that my dad graduated MIT with an engineering degree, I learned to be efficient from a young age.
So it’s no surprise that I like to learn in a way that’s simple, clear and logical.
But learning how to meditate in the mid-1980s was anything but simple, clear and logical. Every book, every lecture, every program – for that matter, everything having to do with meditation seemed so mysterious.
Why couldn’t someone just tell me exactly how meditation worked and how to do it?!! So I did a deep dive into learning, exploring meditation piece by piece until a coherent picture emerged.
I discovered that meditation was not about stopping thoughts, but about becoming aware of them. I learned how to watch these thoughts and allow them to pass. I learned how to focus on my breath and steady my mind. I became less reactive. Less judgmental. Less stressed. More grounded. More accepting. More relaxed.
After decades of learning, I wrote Meditation Illuminated: Simple Ways to Manage Your Busy Mind to bring others the simple explanations I longed for years earlier. Published 10 years ago in July 2013, my intent was to share ideas and practices that could transform lives —and help people find some clarity, inspiration, and peace amidst life’s challenges.
Over the years, I’m been humbled that so many people have shared with me how much they value my book. I’ve received comments such as “Your book has a special place on my nightstand,” “I keep buying new copies, since I keep giving my copy to friends,” “I actually learned to calm my mind”and “thank you for writing this book!”
Meditation techniques have made such a tremendous difference in my life – and I’m deeply grateful to all the teachers who’ve so generously shared their wisdom. Writing this straightforward primer has been my way of paying it forward.
Since studies show that behaving more compassionately toward yourself and others can make you happier, why not develop a compassion habit? The brain has neuroplasticity, or the ability to form new neural pathways and new ways of being. You can actually train your brain to operate from a center of compassion. Here are some tips on how to develop a compassion habit:
Start with yourself. Unless you practice self-compassion, it can be difficult to bring compassion to others. Every day, take time to be compassionate toward yourself, whether you pamper yourself with a bubble bath, practice a type of meditation designed to cultivate feelings of compassion, or simply pause for a few minutes to rest.
Notice your thinking. If you become aware of thoughts that are less than compassionate, see if you can shift to a more positive attitude. Although this can be especially challenging in some situations and with some people, the more you practice, the more natural a compassionate mindset can become.
Ask your inner critic to retire. Many people have developed an inner voice that freely offers negative judgments about their actions, such as “That was such a ridiculous thing to say!” or “You really messed up that presentation.” Ask this inner critic to step down, telling it that the job is no longer available. Replace internal criticism with internal encouragement, such as 19th century psychologist Emile Coue’s famous phrase, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
Look for commonalities. When you’re with people around a dinner table, notice everyone eating together. When you’re at a music venue, notice everyone listening to melodies together. Even when you’re sitting in traffic, you’re all here together, in this shared experience, as frustrating as it can be. The more you notice the common bonds between you and those around you, the more you’ll realize how interconnected we all are, and the more accessible a mindset of compassion can become.
Bring a compassionate approach to those around you—friends, family, colleagues, clients, and even those you don’t know. Take small steps, such as smiling at the cashier in the grocery store, or holding the door open for someone. You don’t have to make grandiose gestures to bring compassion into the world. As the activist Marian Wright Edelman said, “Be a flea for justice. Together all the fleas can move the big dog.”
Let operating from a center of compassion become a habit. When you consider that the first seven letters of the word compassion form the word “compass,” this can remind you to allow a mindset of compassion to guide your actions in the world.